Category Archives: Working

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. Hang in there…

Jim Hesson was possibly my best friend on senior staff at The State, except for Warren Bolton. He was the paper’s IT director. Actually, we called it “I.S.,” for “information services,” and Jim lived that. He was helpful, patient, competent, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim Hesson

Jim Hesson

I still remember with embarrassment the time we were all riding up to North Carolina in a van for a senior staff retreat. He and I talked and joked back and forth so constantly that the person sitting between us finally offered to move, so that we would stop talking across her. Which made me feel bad that we’d been so rude. But I always had a good time talking with Jim.

The purpose of that trip, by the way, wasn’t to talk business. It was to go whitewater rafting. Holly Rogers, the life-loving soul who was then our human resources director, had this idea that to work together effectively, people should sometimes have fun together (another year, she dragged us all out to Frankie’s Fun Park). I would grumble and complain and pass critical remarks about these outings, and fret about the work waiting for me, but once there, I would throw myself into it and have as much fun as anybody. Those were different times.

Back to Jim Hesson. Today, Jim posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday morning I was having my quiet time on the train heading in to work. I was praying that God would give me clarity about my job and if it was time to seek another position. After I got in I was called in to a meeting where I was told my position was eliminated , along with a number of others in our IT dept. So God did answer my prayer, just not in the way I expected. God is good. And I know He can be trusted in all things.

I am so sorry, Jim. But I believe your faith is well-placed. You got an answer; it’s just not going to be an easy one to accept. May you soon see clearly the next steps on the path before. That’s the hard part — wondering whether that next opportunity will ever come. The good news is that you’ve got the right attitude about it.

I am deeply impressed by Jim’s honesty in sharing this. I wasn’t like that. Oh, I shared a lot — far, far more than most people who are laid off do. Thousands upon thousands of words, in my last columns and on the blog. On the first day I didn’t have a job to go to, I stood up in front of the Columbia Rotary Club and cracked jokes about it. And I didn’t lie about anything.

But it was superficial, stiff-upper-lip stuff. It was never gut-level. Not that I meant to mislead; I was just so busy figuring out the next step of each day that I didn’t plumb the depths of what I felt. In truth, of course, I wasn’t feeling on a deep level. I wouldn’t fully realize at the time how much I was losing. The grief of losing the job that paid me well to do what I do best is something that has unfolded itself gradually over a period of years. At the time, the bad feelings were offset by relief that I would no longer be the one laying off, and then having to figure out how to do the job going forward, without those good people. I quickly got over the rush of anger that I felt in the moment I got the news. I refused to dwell, even in my own mind, on how it felt to tell my wife and family.

And I certainly didn’t share private communications between me and the Almighty. In any case, they would have seemed rather incoherent and repetitive, not elegant and direct like what Jim shared.

It occurred to me to keep a journal, maybe write a book, about what it was like to have reached the pinnacle of what you wanted to do for a living, and then have it all taken away in an instant, just as you’re stepping into your peak earning years. And about what happens next. It would have relevance, in that year of 2009. (And today as well. How many people out there have never regained what they had? The unemployment figures don’t tell you that.) But I thought, what a bummer that would be — I certainly wouldn’t want to read such a book, much less write one.

Now, if I wanted to go back and write something like that, I’d have trouble assembling the details. I’ve just forgotten so much of it.

In any case, what could I write that would be as powerful as what Jim did?

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. I know God will bless you going forward…

Cool picture from Sebelius hearing today

This was Tweeted out by a photogapher with the NYT this morning. I was impressed.

But since the NYT might be inclined to be possessive about the rights, I’m not going to put the image in this post. I’m just going to give you the link so you can go see it.

Pretty good shot, huh? I’ll bet those photogs in the photo — all of whom got the standard, run-of-the-mill shots — are kicking themselves now, assuming they saw this.

Gathering to say goodbye to Lee Bandy

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy's funeral.

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy’s funeral.

Above are some of the better-known people who showed up at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia yesterday to pay their respects to the inimitable Lee Bandy.

There were other politicos, such as Sen. John Courson and former Attorney General Henry McMaster. But far more numerous were present and former colleagues of Lee’s from The State.

With the emphasis being on “former.”

Lindsey Graham wondered whether there were more alumni of the paper in the receiving line — which wound all the way around the fellowship hall — than the present total newsroom employment, and I looked around and said yes, almost certainly.

The former certainly outnumbered the present at the lunch that some of us went to at the Thirsty Fellow after the funeral and reception. That group is pictured below. Of those at the table, only three currently work at The State. The rest are at The Post and Courier in Charleston, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and various other places. Some are free-lancing. Some of us, of course, aren’t in the game at the moment.

That night was when we gave Lee a proper newspaper send-off. There were about 50 of us at Megan Sexton and Sammy Fretwell’s house. At one point in the evening, we crowded into a ragged circle in the biggest room in the house to share Bandy stories. The first couple of speakers were fairly choked up. Then Aaron Sheinin of the AJC cheered us up by saying, “What would we all say if he walked in that door right now?” And immediately, we all raised our glasses and shouted, “Bandy!”

So we went around the room, and after each testimonial — some poignant, some humorous, some both — we hoisted our glasses and cried out his name again. Just the way we did during his lifetime, in a tone infused with delight. That was the way everyone greeted him, from presidents to senators to political professionals to his fellow scribes. Everyone was glad to see him.

And everyone was deeply sorry to see him go.

There was in the room a rosy glow of remembrance of what we had all meant to each other once, and a joy at regaining that comradeship, if only for an evening. But none of the rest of us will have a sendoff like Bandy’s, nor will any of us deserve it as much…

Thirsty

John McCain didn’t like the heat in Lee Bandy’s kitchen

On a previous post, I quoted Aaron Sheinin telling a story about how, after “Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions” in editorial board interviews, Lee Bandy would weigh in with something that made the guest politico squirm.

Today, fellow alumnus Bill Castronuovo reminded me, over on Facebook, of video I shot of Lee making John McCain very uncomfortable in our boardroom in August 2007.

You don’t see Lee (hey, I had enough trouble keeping a camera trained on the candidate while taking notes and presiding over the meeting; two cameras were impossible), but that’s his voice you hear asking the question that brings out McCain’s dark side. Since the mike is facing away from Lee, you might have trouble hearing the question. I can’t make out parts of it myself, what with McCain talking over Lee before he could get it all out. But here’s the audible part:

What went wrong with your campaign? You were sailing along… you had a wide lead over everybody else… now you have to fight for your political life.

As you see, the senator did not like the question a bit.

To set the stage: McCain was considered practically down and out in this stage of the campaign for the GOP nomination. A few months before, he had been the unquestioned front-runner. But things seemed to have fallen apart for him. A few weeks earlier, I had posted this report (also with video), headlined “McCain goes to the mattresses.” In the video, McCain staffer B.J. Boling (one of his few remaining at this low point) said they were going from a huge production to “an insurgency-type campaign.”

In the end, it worked. McCain managed to win in SC, and go on to win the nomination. But at this point in the campaign, the candidate was in no mood to take questions about how badly he was doing from that pesky Lee Bandy…

We’ve lost Lee Bandy, the dean of SC political journalists

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The word went out Thursday afternoon that our old and dear friend Lee Bandy was on life support in intensive care at Palmetto Health Baptist. His family was gathering.

Within an hour or two, his other family — the one that had had the privilege of working with him during his long career as South Carolina’s pre-eminent political writer — had started gathering in a message thread on Facebook.

By the time the inevitable word came this afternoon that Lee had passed away, that exchange of memories had turned into a virtual wake among 248 people who treasured his acquaintance. It included current and former alumni of The State, veterans of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, family members, and many others he had touched along the way.

For those of you who didn’t know him, let me try briefly to explain…

Leland Bandy first went to Washington during the Kennedy administration. Early in his career, he did some radio reporting — he had the voice for it — but he was primarily known for his 40 years with The State, most of it as the newspaper’s Washington correspondent.

After Knight Ridder bought The State in the late 80s, Lee officially became part of the KR Washington Bureau, but he never gave up his prestigious desk in the Senate gallery. He was a rare asset for the bureau, and not just because he was one of the only two or three people in the bureau who got tickets to the Gridiron show (he was a regular performer in the shows, as well as a loyal member of his church choir). Lee Bandy had access to people that no one else had. I remember in particular the way editors in the bureau hung on every word he had to share, after he and I had been over to Lee Atwater’s office at the RNC on one of my trips to Washington.

When Atwater was dying, Lee was the only journalist he or his family would have anything to do with. It was a pattern we’d see repeated when Carroll Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and when when Strom Thurmond died.

Everybody, including the politicos who despised all other journalists, loved and trusted Lee Bandy. Why? For the simplest of reasons. He was a good man. He treated everyone not only with fairness, but with kindness and generosity. It was quite a potent formula. More journalists should try it.

As his editor for a brief portion of his career — 1987-1991 — I have my own Lee Bandy stories to tell. But I was deeply impressed by some of those told in the outpouring of love on Facebook.

Here’s a sampling…

From Aaron Gould Sheinin, formerly of The State, now with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and here’s something Aaron wrote about Lee for The State):

I’ll go then. During the 2004 presidential campaign John Kerry came for an Ed board meeting. After Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions there was a pause. And Bandy pipes up, “So, John did you get Botox?” Kerry, his face devoid of emotion, says, “No, Lee, I didn’t.”…

Same year. Lee and I are at Crawford Cooks house to meet Bill Richardson, then governor of New Mexico who is thinking of running for president. Just the four of us. Richardson gives his opening spiel. Bandy clears his throat and says “So, I hear you got a bimbo problem.” Richardson, his face impassive, says “No, Lee, I don’t.”

Neither became president….

Oh man. So Bandy is at the Gridiron in 2001. Bush’s first year. Lee Makes his way up to the head table. Bush sees him and says Bandy! Like everyone does. Bush says I want your speaker of the house to be my ambassador to Chile.

bandy says ok. And comes back and tells the editors

He calls David Wilkins the speaker who denies all knowledge. We decide that since the gridiron is supposed to be off the record that Lee needs to call the White House press office

Lee calls and tells them what he’s writing. They get all indignant. No way. Who’s your source?

Bandy: Your boss.

The press aide: Ari Fleishcer?

Bandy: No the president.

Press aide: oh.

Long story: Wilkins turned down the job an later took the canada job.

Angelia Herrin, who represented the Wichita Eagle (which was where I first worked with her, before I knew Lee) in the KR bureau:

We are so sad, reading this and yet, George turned to me and said, can’t you hear just lee bandy laugh? And we both laughed and cried a little. Because my god, Lee Bandy could make you laugh when you were just in the middle of the worst stupid day in Washington. Because really– that’s just the right reaction on the worst stupid day on Capitol Hill.

Jeff Miller, formerly of The State and now with an advocacy group in Washington:

I cut my teeth covering politics during the 1988 GOP presidential primary, the first to come right before Super Tuesday, and Poppy Bush needed to win. I was so far out of my comfort zone that crazy month. In hindsight, I needn’t have worried. I had… Bandy, who knew everything and everybody, to coach me through it. Greatest professional experience of my life. Bless you Lee. A legion of young, impressionable reporters owe you so much.

Megan Sexton, formerly of The State, now working at USC:

My favorite: Bandy interviewing Strom Thurmond Bandy: “Strom, have you tried that Viagra yet?” Strom: “Bandy, I don’t need it.”

Wayne Washington, formerly of The State, now of the AJC:

Lee, who was a reporting giant when I was in elementary school, was the first person to call me and tell me how much he was looking forward to working with me when I was hired by The State. I was speechless. Great sense of humor. Great generosity. Class.

Kay Packett, a sometime commenter on this blog, who explains in her stories how she knew Lee:

I am heartbroken. I met Lee when I was a brand-new press secretary in Washington and I avoided him assiduously because my previous boss — Mont Morton at the SC Department of Education for you old-timers — had told me Lee would have me for lunch. Then he called one day at the end of a very bad day and suggested a Bloody Mary, and I have loved him every minute since. He taught me everything I know about working with a real reporter, and he made me learn it the hard way! But we had a lot of fun along the way. My thoughts are with his family and I am so sad for all is us who loved him….

That truly was Lee’s gift — doing his job well and fairly and keeping his friends at the same time. I remember once when Carroll Campbell had instructed me to yell at Lee over an unflattering column, and I called to tell him I had to yell at him, and he said, “Good. Meet me at Yolanda’s.” So we had a couple of scotches and laughed. I wonder what questions he’s asking Campbell now.

There is a hole in my heart. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your memories.

Doug Pardue, formerly of The State, now with the Charleston Post and Courier:

A true journalist’s journalist, hard-hitting, and a truly nice guy. I remember when one young reporter from The State went to Washington and got in a cab. The driver asked him where he was from and he replied South Carolina. The cabbie then asked him, “Do you know Lee Bandy?”

Valerie Bauerlein Jackson, who used to sit next to Lee in The State‘s newsroom and went on to work for The Wall Street Journal:

I could not guess how many stories Bandy wrote about Carroll Campbell and Strom Thurmond–hundreds, maybe, and many, many of them critical. I think Bandy was the first to question whether Thurmond was still fit to hold office, and he certainly broke the story that Strom was living at Walter Reed. But when the Campbells were ready to let the world know that the governor had early-onset Alzheimer’s, they called Bandy. And when Strom died, the Thurmonds called Bandy….

… he also said, “In many of our newsrooms today, we have too many people living a life of journalism for journalism. There’s nothing else. Well, I would like to suggest there is something else. That there is something more to life than being a journalist. And that is being a human being.”

Bandy was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.

Michelle Davis, formerly of The State:

He was the only person from The State to ever come visit me in the far-flung Camden bureau when I was 23 years old. He treated me to lunch at The Paddock and actually took me seriously when I said I wanted to go to Washington someday like he did. And then he helped me get there.

Danny Flanders, formerly of The State:

I’ve been reading this all day, and it didn’t hit me until tonight when I first truly encountered Lee. As a new night editor at The State in 1990ish, one of my Friday night duties was helping with weekend copy. (Unless, of course, someone set fire to Rockaways) On my first Friday night on the job, I was told to “keep an eye out” for Lee’s Sunday column when it came in. Oh, God, no. I would be charged (in my early 30s) with editing Bandy, whom I read for years? So when he called me to tell me he’d filed (Remember all of that?) he introduced himself and we chatted for an hour about life, not the business, before he said, “Change anything you like, Danny.” I thought, Was he buttering me up to protect his copy, was he calling from a phone booth at happy hour, or is this guy really that nice? Yikes!. So I made a few nips and tucks, then held my breath as I called him to read it back to him, and he thanked me profusely for, he said, making him “look better”. Whew!…

thanks for the vote of confidence, Lee. Godspeed.

Brigid Schulte, whom I hired to “replace” Lee when he moved from Washington to the Columbia office in the early 90s. She is now with The Washington Post:

Lee Bandy. You can’t say the name without a smile. And perhaps a bit of a chuckle, remembering something he said, or did, hearing his own frequent chuckle after saying something a tad irreverent but always spot on. I had the great, wondrous and intimidating privilege to follow Lee Bandy as the State’s reporter in Washington after his long, illustrious stint when he’d decided it was time to go home. Bandy ferried me around the Capitol, expertly ducking in and out of offices, secret passageways, waving to just about everybody along the way. He was gracious, generous, supportive, hilarious, kind and just great fun to be with. He even snuck me into a Grid Iron rehearsal after we’d had a long, breezy, gossipy lunch that stretched into the late afternoon. We both giggled at the thought of Strom Thurmond referring to me as “that nice little girl from the State Newspaper.” My heart goes out to his family. I wish him not just peace, but dearly hope he’s sitting somewhere with his feet up, celestial newspaper open, a tinkling glass by his side, regaling fellow angels with irreverent, and spot on commentary on the doings in the world below. He was a peach of a man. He’ll, no doubt, make one hell of an angel.

Joseph Scott Stroud, formerly of The State, now political editor with The Tennessean:

Thanks to all for the sustaining thoughts through all this. Lee’s life showed us, and has reminded me this weekend, that you can be a constructive critic and observer of public life and still have a generous heart. Mary, I hope you and the family are blessed with a sense of why Lee is so loved by the rest of us — because of his good, kind heart and buoyant spirit. He won’t be replaced, but we all carry him with us in our hearts

And finally, one more from Valerie Bauerlein:

I love you, Lee Bandy.

She is far from alone in that.

Finally, a perfect job fit for me!

Back during my long period of unemployment, I signed up for a number of Internet services to help me in the job hunt. I still get emails from them.

Today, I got one that claimed, “An employer or recruiter on TheLadders just posted a job that matched with your profile.”

Exciting news, eh?

What was the job? Vice President of Logistics for Belk. An excerpt from the description:

This position is responsible for planning and coordinating domestic transportation and retail DC operations and includes operational and fiscal responsibility for these activities.  He / She will take a strategic leadership approach and will be accountable for creating plans to develop and integrate the capabilities of the organization in line with the current Supply Chain Mission.  The VP of Logistics ensures that internal and external customers receive the highest level of service, makes decisions that maximize the operation’s performance and cost metrics, and builds strong associate work teams with a positive work environment…

Yeah… that’s me all over.

This would be mildly amusing except for something else I know… algorithms that are no more sophisticated than the one that saw this as right up my alley are making decisions about who will get interviewed for jobs and who will not. I don’t know how many jobs I got rejected for before a single human being had looked at my application, but I assure you it would be a depressing number.

Trees, both old and new, in South Carolina

Some of the few old-growth trees left standing, in Congaree National Park.

Some of the few old-growth trees left standing, in Congaree National Park.

Heard a pretty cool story out of South Carolina on NPR this morning:

Like much of the United States, South Carolina was once covered in old-growth forests. By the mid-20th century, virtually all of the virgin wood in the state was gone, either hauled away on trains or floated down rivers to be cut into lumber at saw mills.

But not all that timber made it to its destination. Some sank on its way down the river, where those old-growth logs have been preserved for about a century. Now, these precious leftovers can be worth up to several thousand dollars each.

But getting that treasure out is no easy task. First, anyone hoping to dredge the logs, known as sinker wood, must obtain a permit from the state. The logs weigh tons and are buried deep down in the muck. Once removed, the wood must be properly stored before milling to avoid cracking. And then, there are the alligators…

I learned several things from that piece, the most surprising of which was that wood that had been underwater for generations, even centuries, could still be useful, even valuable. I would have thought it would be ruined….

Anyway, I listened with particular interest because of an interesting project I’ve been working on. ADCO is doing some work for Hobcaw Barony. If you don’t know what or where that is, it would take a lot of words to tell you. But basically: It’s a 16,000 acre tract of land, essentially the southern end of Waccamaw Neck, just above Georgetown. It was originally a land grant to one of the Lords Proprietors, had been broken up into multiple rice plantations, and had been mostly reassembled around the time of the Recent Unpleasantness. After the end of slavery made it tough for SC planters to compete with cheaper rice from out west, the owners started using the mostly wild land for hunting clubs for rich Yankees. Bernard Baruch, the Camden native who had made an immense fortune on Wall Street and would become a close adviser to seven presidents (he’s the guy who put the term “Cold War” into circulation, in a speech to the SC Legislature), bought the tract and some additional land to more or less assemble the original royal grant. He used it as a winter home and hunting preserve.

His daughter, Belle, bought it from him in chunks, starting in the mid-30s. When she died in 1964, she left it to a foundation that was to preserve the land in its natural state in perpetuity, and open it to the state’s colleges and universities for educational and research purposes. Both USC and Clemson have operated institutes on the land since the late 60s — USC studying the estuary, Clemson the forest.

Anyway, one of the projects is to re-establish long-leaf pine, which was mostly cut down for naval stores in the age of sail. One challenge in doing this is the wild hogs on the land — descendants of swine left there by some early European settlers — which love tender young long-leaf pine roots.

OK, so it’s a thin connection, but since that’s what’s on my mind these days, that’s what caused me to be particularly interested in this NPR story…

The King's Highway running through Hobcaw, looking much as it did in colonial times.

The King’s Highway running through Hobcaw, looking much as it did in colonial times.

Forget oxycodone. The most addictive drug is Google. And we’re past the point at which it’s just a ‘choice.’

addictive

Back on this post from yesterday, we were having the usual argument about the intrusiveness of private companies vs. the government, and as usual someone said “my use of Google Maps is voluntary,” an assertion which I questioned.

My use of Google Maps and other Google products is no longer in the realm of what I consider to be “voluntary.”

Google is as much a part of the daily infrastructure of my life, and the things I need to get done, as the streets I drive on. Its services are something I rely on, in a more direct, frequent and ubiquitous manner, than I do the direct services of the police.

I don’t see how to engage modern life without it — or something exactly like it. I couldn’t get through a day of ADCO work without it, much less publish this blog. Without Google, both of my active email accounts go away, my browser (the instantaneous searches that occur when you type into the URL field, making it unnecessary to know the address of anything, is indispensable) disappears; there’s no YouTube, no really utilitarian Maps program, and then all sorts of other useful things like Google Books, Translate (no longer can I just say, Well, that’s French and I don’t understand French… no excuse), etc. Without Google Images, I have to fall back on my highly flawed memory for names and faces.

One can attempt to drop off the grid and no longer use Google, just as one can drop out of society at large — quit paying one’s taxes, go live in the wilderness off the land. Theoretically, at least.

But the cost of doing either is pretty high…

Yes, there are other services that do these things. But that’s not the point. If Yahoo or AOL had succeeded in being what Google is, or if Facebook were to succeed in being what it wants to be, then it would be the same thing; we’d just be calling it something different. And why ever use competing services for any of these functions, when the very fact that they are all knit together seamlessly magnifies their utility exponentially? I would no more want to switch platforms than I would want to try to leave the roads and drive on a railroad track in my car.

Kathryn writes, “Google is a gateway drug.”

Yes. And more addictive than most.

I always had trouble with being distracted by looking things up. It was just too seductive. A dictionary on my desk was a dangerous thing. I couldn’t look up a word without running across several other words on the way that fascinated me, and each of them led to other words, and on and on.

Fortunately, I had a good vocabulary, and seldom really needed to look up a word.

But now that I can, instantly, look up anything, I cannot stop doing it. A thought about a word or a fact that causes my brain to wonder or doubt even slightly (something I have always done, constantly; it’s just that for the first decades of my life it was harder to scratch that itch) sends me on an immediate search.

For instance, last night I watched “Looper.” Almost immediately, I wondered who the protagonist was. It looked remotely like , but the expression and even facial structure was wrong (It was him, but he wore extensive makeup to make himself look like a young Bruce Willis). Then I thought, “Isn’t Bruce Willis in this? Why haven’t I seen him?” So I checked, and yeah, he was coming up. I see Emily Blunt’s in it. Isn’t she the girl who… ? Yes, she is. She’s really something. Jeff Daniels is surprisingly good in this. What’s his character’s name again? And so forth… (By the way, the movie wasn’t very satisfying.)

OK, so most of that was IMDB, and IMDB isn’t Google. Yet. But the fact is, I often use Google to flesh out what I find in the movie database, because the info there is pretty sketchy. I like depth in my trivia. I used to do this with my phone, which is always clipped to my belt. Now, I usually have the iPad within reach as well.

In any case, now that it’s possible to look things up constantly, I can’t stop.

You can point to this as a character flaw (or perhaps an illness), and you have a good argument. But aside from the compulsive aspect, a certain amount of this is necessary to practically everything I do, everywhere I go.

Let’s say that a person only really needs to use these services a tenth as much as I do. I could concede that. But if a person doesn’t at least use them that tenth amount, he’s not going to be able to keep pace with the world and interact with other people at the pace that society demands — at least, not in anything I’ve ever done for a living. (Yes, I know that lots and lots of jobs today are still not information-based.)

That puts Google into the realm of essential infrastructure, again like the roads that are a function of government.

It at least gets us to where any assertion that one is not forced to deal with Google (or, for the sake of argument, with some other “private” entity that’s just as useful) on fairly thin ice.

Burl Burlingame, in full Gonzo mode back in the day

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Our friend Burl Burlingame posted the above photo on his Facebook page over the weekend, with this cutline:

This is for Brad Warthen, because journalism just ain’t the same without us.

Yes, that’s Burl on the left, in full Hunter Thompson mode back in the day. I don’t know the lady.

Note the concentration, the devotion to duty — taking notes even when he can’t see the notebook. That’s what I call a work ethic.

Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff

Fellow former newspaperman Burl sent me the following link yesterday, along with the message, “We got out just in time:”

Chicago Sun-Times cuts entire photography staff

The Chicago Sun-Times and its sister suburban papers have eliminated their photography staff and will ask the papers’ reporters to provide more photography and video for their stories.

Managers at Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC, the Wrapports LLC unit that owns the papers, told the photographers in a meeting this morning that it was cutting their jobs, according to people familiar with the situation. The number of full-time workers affected is about 20, but including part-time employees, it could be closer to 30, they said.

While the company, which has been trying to revive profits, still will hire professional freelance photographers for coverage, it will increasingly rely on reporters to take photos and video to accompany their stories, the sources said…

And I responded to Burl, No, actually, YOU did — you found a great job right up your alley (in an awesome location) and quit BEFORE you got laid off. Me, I got the same treatment as these photographers…

Just for the record.

There should be nothing new about reporters having to take pictures, although for some I’m sure it’s been a shock in recent years. Hey, I was usually my own photographer when I was in a rural bureau back in the late ’70s. I did a pretty good job, too. But it was always nice to have a photographer along. For one thing because, you know, some (but not all) were better photographers than I was.

But it also was helpful to double-team a source. If I was interviewing someone and needed to pause to get a picture, the person tended to tense up and look self-conscious. Whereas a photographer could get good candid shots of the subject while I was distracting him or her.

Also, it could be handy to have a partner along in a dicey, remote situation. One photog I worked with, for instance, carried a gun in his glove compartment. Just in case.

And you could learn things about people while out on assignment. Once, a photog whom I will not name but whom I had known for years and years went out with me to report on a train derailment way, way out in the boonies in West Tennessee. It had gone off a bridge over a creek a good distance from any road. We were going to have to leave the car and hike maybe half a mile over fields that had close to a foot of new snow on them.

He said we should both put on hats, since a person loses so much of his body heat through his head. I agreed — who wouldn’t? We both had knit caps. I put on mine. I didn’t realize he was building up to something. He hesitated. He said, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” About what? I started to say… and then he pulled off his hair.

I had had no idea.

Anyway, I swore I’d never tell, he put on his hat, and we set out.

Months or years later, one of the old hands in the newsroom made some casual remark about how that photographer was so sensitive about his baldness.

I said, incredulous, “You know about that?”

She was surprised at me: “Oh, everybody knows about ____’s rug.”

But I digress.

Anyway, photographers are useful (and sometimes entertaining), to have around. So I’m sorry not only for the individuals who just lost their jobs in Chicago — believe me, folks; I feel your pain — but for journalism. The craft just got even poorer.

Report: Now, ricin-laced letter has been mailed to Obama

First, there was the report last night that mail containing ricin had been intercepted on its way to Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker.

Now, there’s this:

 WASHINGTON – A letter addressed to President Obama, containing a suspicious substance, was intercepted at a screening facility outside the White House, the Secret Service said on Wednesday.

The letter was received on Tuesday – similar timing to the letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, which tested positive for ricin. The letter had similar markings and is similar in appearance to the one addressed to Mr. Wicker, according to a law enforcement official.

The Secret Service did not disclose what was in the letter or provide any details, saying it was intercepted in a facility that “routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery.”

The mailing facility is not close to the White House grounds, the Secret Service said. An official said the Secret Service is working with the United States Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is more than weird. After 9/11, we had the anthrax mailings. Now this, after Boston. Is there something about overt terrorist acts on U.S. soil that stimulates a certain kind of deviant to put poison in the mail?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

This really brings back the memories. Since some media types were among the targets last time around, we went the extra mile at The State to make sure ensure the safety of employees. Some regular travelers like Doug experienced inconvenience at airports. For me, the biggest direct impact of extreme security measures was dealing with the mail in the fall of 2001.

It was decided to move mail sorting out of the main building, into a smaller structure located on the grounds of The State. And senior staff members — the executives in charge of news, editorial, advertising, circulation, etc. — worked shifts supervising the process. So it was that I found myself going over to the other building for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to personally supervise the shuffling of mail. There was no practical point to senior staff doing this, beyond the point of showing that we would share any one-in-a-million danger involved in the process.

It was as boring as it sounds, and every moment was imbued with a sense of absurdity. But such was the atmosphere in the country at the time.

The interesting thing about these latest developments, for me, was that I learned that Congress and the White House were still processing mail at remote locations. Well, it makes a lot more sense for them to be doing it than for a private business. But I didn’t know it until now.

The amazing thing about newspapers, as interpreted by ‘George Costanza’

Romenesko shared this, which he got from The Harvard Crimson. It’s from an interview with Jason Alexander, best known for his role as George Costanza on “Seinfeld”:

The first time I really thought, “Oh my god, Jerry Seinfeld is brilliant” was when he did a joke about newspapers, and how relieved the editors of a newspaper must be when exactly the right amount of things happen everyday to make the paper come out perfectly, so that at six o’clock at their deadline, you don’t go, “Oh, one more thing happened,” and now you have a blank page with two paragraphs.

I’ve always loved that joke, too. Because while it is meant to be seen as ridiculous, it taps into a sense of wonder I had about newspaper from an early age.

When I was in second or third grade, I read a book of short stories aimed at people my age. It had a theme — each story opened a window on some different aspect of the big wide world, meant to show kids the possibilities for when they grew up. One story, the one I remember best, was about a kid who went to work for a newspaper as a copy boy (which would be my first newspaper job, at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, years later). The reader followed the boy as he learned about everything it took to publish a newspaper each day.

I was struck with awe at the enormity of such a task. I couldn’t believe any group of people, no matter how experienced or talented, could get all of those things done in a day, every day. And yet there was the proof, on my doorstep each morning.

Decades later, after I had mastered every aspect of the process, I used to wonder sometimes at the complaints we’d get from readers. Someone would be griping at me about some small thing that, in his or her opinion, wasn’t quite right in the paper, and I would remember that story and how it impressed me. And I’d think, Hasn’t this person ever thought about what a miracle it is that the paper comes out at all? Obviously not, or they’d have backed off a bit.

I’ve never thought a single actual error in any paper I worked for was excusable. And readers deserved to demand the same high standard from us. But occasionally, when they were going on and on about some tiny thing that had gone wrong (or that they saw as having gone wrong), I’d find myself wishing they’d pause, just a moment, to be impressed by everything that was right, against all odds…

Oh, wait, one other thing… Having spent a lot of years making the news fit the paper, ruthlessly wielding a light-blue felt pen (which humans could read, but the camera that shot the page when it was done could not pick up) in composing rooms, or trimming with marginally greater delicacy on a computer screen, I found myself puzzled that Yahoo paid a high-school kid tens of millions for an app that… well, here’s the description:

Yahoo was attracted to Summly’s core technology for automatically summarizing news articles. The technology, which included an algorithm for deriving the summaries, was created with help from SRI International, a Silicon Valley research-and development firm that has an artificial-intelligence lab and has an ownership stake in the startup….

In 2011, Mr. D’Aloisio founded his company, at the time called Trimit. He redesigned the app to automatically boil news articles down to 400-word summaries and re-launched it as Summly in late 2012 with help from SRI…

I thought, hey, I could have done that for Yahoo for half the money. And I wouldn’t have needed an app for it. It only takes seconds per story. I’ll admit, the slashing I used to do in composing rooms (and on computer screens) wasn’t always a work of art when I was in a hurry (which was most of the time) — but I kind of doubt this app is any more respectful of the writers’ precious words…

Somehow, I can’t bring myself to worry about Michael Dell’s job situation

The Wall Street Journal has been keeping me up-to-date on Michael Dell’s attempt to take the company he founded private.

This morning’s installment of the saga was headlined, “Michael Dell Finds His Deal, And Job, in the Cross Hairs.” An excerpt:

Michael Dell‘s DELL +2.62% plan to gain greater control of his company and take it private began to backfire, as rival bidders for the computer maker floated competing offers that, if accepted, could leave him out of a job.

Blackstone Group LP BX -0.41% and activist investor Carl Icahn delivered separate proposals to a special committee of Dell Inc.’s board before a key deadline for offers expired, people familiar with the matter said. Blackstone has been exploring the possibility of someone else leading the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But you know what? I’ve just gotta confess that it’s tough for me to be on pins and needles about the possibility of poor Michael losing his job.

Those of you who understand high finance might set me straight here, but near as I can tell, if he “loses” this fight, he walks away with one of the best severance deals in the history of the planet. His bid is for $24.4 billion. Presumably, the winning bid would be comparable. He controls about 16 percent of the stock.

Of course, a job is about more than money. There’s job satisfaction. There’s one’s place in a community; one’s sense of making a contribution.

But don’t you think the best days for all that are sort of behind him? How will he ever repeat the heady days of founding the company in his dorm room, and seeing it rise to where “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” was all the rage. Now, the company, and the industry of which it has formed a prominent part, have seen their best days.

Mind you, I am sort of rooting for his bid to take the company private, just on general principles. I say this on the basis of my own experiences working for publicly-traded companies. If I were in his position, I’d want to be private, too.

But I can’t help thinking that for him, personally, the best thing might be to lose his job. Then he could take his cash and go out and do something new and exciting. Or just chill. There’s always that option.

The problem with writing your column ahead of time

Noonan

Meant to mention this over the weekend…

Peggy Noonan tends to work ahead of time on her weekly column for the WSJ, which runs in the print version on Saturday. I can’t swear to this, but I think I’ve seen it posted early on Friday in the past.

That makes her more of a Cindi Scoppe than a Brad Warthen. Cindi always wrote a piece as soon as the idea had fully coalesced and she had all the legwork for it, even if it wasn’t to run for days. I never started writing a column until the day it was due. I take that back; “never’ isn’t quite right. Sometimes I would stay late on Thursday night trying to write my Sunday column (which was due midday Friday). But when I did, I usually scrapped it for a fresher idea, or completely rewrote it, on Friday. Which made the work ahead of time seem sort of pointless.

There was also the thing that I just wrote better under deadline pressure, which is why what I did on Friday was better than anything I’d written on Thursday, usually.

But the biggest reason why I didn’t write ahead of time was beautifully illustrated by Ms. Noonan’s column this past weekend. An excerpt:

It’s not a debt and deficit crisis, it’s a jobs crisis. The debt and the deficit are part of it, part of the general fear that we’re on a long slide and can’t turn it around. The federal tax code is part of it—it’s a drag on everything, a killer of the spirit of guts and endeavor. Federal regulations are part of it. The administration’s inability to see the stunning and historic gift of the energy revolution is part of it.

But it’s a jobs crisis that’s the central thing. And you see it everywhere you look…

That’s how it started. This is how it ended:

… Mr. Obama is making the same mistake he made four years ago. We are in a jobs crisis and he does not see it. He thinks he’s in a wrestling match about taxing and spending, he thinks he’s in a game with those dread Republicans. But the real question is whether the American people will be able to have jobs.

Once they do, so much will follow—deficits go down a little as fewer need help, revenues go up as more pay taxes. Confidence and trust in the future will grow. People will be happier.

There’s little sense he sees this. Dr. Doom talks about coming disaster when businessmen need the confidence to hire someone. He’s missing the boat on the central crisis of his second term.

Unlike many of her columns, which range across several topics, the whole thrust of this one was what a failure Obama is on jobs.

And yes, that column ran the day after we learned the economy had added a surprisingly high 236,000 jobs in February, bringing the unemployment rate to its lowest point in four years.

Now of course, one can quibble about how good that news is. And indeed, her column was updated with the new unemployment figure, and she wrote, “The jobless rate, officially 7.7%, is almost twice that if you include those who have stopped looking, work part time, or are only ‘marginally attached’ to the workforce.”

But still. If she’d waited until Friday to write the thing, she’d have chosen a different topic. This was the worst Saturday in four years for making the argument she advanced in this one.

Economist takes live-and-let-live position on Oxford comma

An alert reader brought this piece from The Economist to my attention. An excerpt:

To recap, the Oxford comma separates the last two items in a list, as in “red, white, and blue”. For reasons opaque, the use or non-use of the final comma here stirs passions all out of proportion to its importance. As OnlineSchools.com’s graphic notes, much of the world uses it, but equally respectable publishing houses and publications do not. The Economist is in the latter camp: we would write “red, white and blue”.  Defenders of the Oxford comma point to an almost certainly apocryphal story of the student who dedicated a piece of work to “my parents, God and Ayn Rand”. But anyone who writes such a thing has bigger problems than punctuation. Any sensible person would edit and remove such messes as this, whether they use the Oxford comma or not.

What I like about OnlineSchools.com’s graphic is its explanation that the Oxford comma isn’t a black-or-white, always-or-never thing. It is a matter of style. Use it or don’t, but be consistent, and you’re fine. Rarely is such finesse on display when people talk about these things…

What that sort of implies, but doesn’t clearly say, is that even someone who does not use the Oxford comma as a rule might use it, without being untrue to himself, in a series of elements that are more complex than red, white and blue. For instance, if he were to describe the same colors as the hue of an apple at the perfect point of ripeness, that of a face that has been drained of blood at the moment when its owner has heard appalling news, and the color that you see staring straight down into the Pacific when you’re out of sight of land.

No one should be so rigid about this or any other style rule that it gets in the way of clear communication.

Of course, just plain “red, white and blue” would be the more economical way to say it.

Did the WSJ’s editors do this on purpose?

noonan

I just thought this was an interesting juxtaposition this morning: A separate headline using Peggy Noonan’s signature “kinder, gentler” phrase, right under her latest column.

Was that a conscious irony on the part of the editor who wrote the headline, and/or the one who put the page together, and/or those who read proofs? Or completely coincidental?

I don’t know.

In any case, here’s a link to the Noonan column, and here’s the piece under it with the “kinder, gentler” hed.

Under fire, Gen. Turner quits state employment agency

This broke at about midday today:

SEANNA ADCOX
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) – The director of South Carolina’s unemployment agency has resigned, effective March 1.GeneralTurner2

Department of Employment and Workforce Director Abraham Turner turned in a hand-written resignation letter to the governor Friday.

In the letter, Turner says he’s resigning for personal reasons. His resignation follows questions from legislators stemming from the agency’s decision to eliminate one-on-one help for people seeking benefits in 17 rural offices statewide…

It first came to my attention because of this emailed comment from state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland:

“Governor Haley has allowed her agency, SC DEW, to become an absolute embarrassment. In the last two weeks the governor’s agency has made news because of crippling layoffs, massive pay raises, lavish taxpayer funded beach retreats, the closing of seventeen unemployment centers in rural counties, and now the resignation of the Executive Director. Governor Haley must regain control of her agency before it is too late. Millions of South Carolinians depend on this agency to be functional and effective. As it stands today, it is the opposite.”

But not only Democrats have been complaining about how the agency has been run under the retired general. As thestate.com reports:

The employment agency’s woes have become a subject of almost daily criticism in the Legislature.

State Sen. Ken Bryant, R-Anderson, took to the floor Thursday to blast what he said were outlandish raises — some of more than 50 percent — recently given some agency employees. Bryant also said the agency was claiming victory for lowering jobless benefits improperly paid to $50 million from $90 million.

Other senators joined in a bipartisan display of frustration.

At one point, Bryant and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, exchanged criticisms of the agency, with Setzler, a moderate Democrat, and Bryant, a Tea Party Republican, both ripping the agency and its leadership, citing recent cuts in its staffing and the raises, the closing of rural offices and an oceanside management retreat…

My Top Ten favorite ads from the 2013 Super Bowl

To hundreds of millions of Americans, today is the day after Super Sunday. To me, it’s Monday. (Hey, if I were a football fan I’d use those Roman numbers instead of “2013″ in my headline.)

Still, I took some time this morning to look at the ads from the big event last night for the ADCO blog, and following are the ones I put in my Top Ten. (“Top Ten” may not sound very selective, until you reflect that there were 47 of them. Really.)

Here were my admittedly simplistic, off-the-top-of-my-head criteria:

  1. Does it sell the product?
  2. If it features a celebrity, does it make good use of that star power (or is it just a gratuitous appearance)?
  3. Is it original, clever, creative, witty, funny, whatever?

Anyway, here’s my list:

  1. Time Warner Cable: “Walking Dead” — Definitely sells the product, and most awesome use of star power: Isn’t Daryl everybody’s favorite “Walking Dead” survivor? “Yes, ma’am.” See video above.
  2. Mercedes: “Soul” — Great casting (nobody else can do that evil look like Willem Dafoe), and only Martin Scorsese has made better use of the Stones’ music. I was wondering how they were going to get out of the trap of the Mercedes actually being a devilish temptation; it was handled deftly, by punching the car’s (relative) low price.
  3. Dodge: “Farmer” — Accomplished what the “Jeep” one tried to do, and did it in an unexpected way. This one is the rightful successor to the much-maligned, but remembered, Clint Eastwood one.
  4. Kraft MiO Fit: “Liftoff” — I’m gonna miss that character. Or maybe not. Good thing we have Netflix. My favorite line of his from last episode of “”30 Rock”: When he calls a computer “the pornography box.”
  5. Volkswagen: “Get Happy” — Not a match for the Darth Vader kid, but a laudably original attempt.
  6. Samsung: “The Next Big Thing” — Two of Judd Apatow’s stars took it to one level, Saul from “Breaking Bad” took it to the next.
  7. Toyota: “Wish Granted” — Funny. Good star power. Give it a B+.
  8. Go Daddy: “Big Idea” — Had the hurdle of communicating (to the remaining millions who don’t have their own websites) what Go Daddy, does; jumped over it nicely. Far better than the other GoDaddy ad that everybody’s on about.
  9. Hyundai Turbo: “Stuck Behind” — Loved the “Breaking Bad” reference, if that’s what it was (the guy in the hazmat suit).
  10. Budweiser: “Brotherhood” — Deftly evokes the question, “Can a really big horse be man’s best friend?” (See video below.)

 

‘What It Feels Like To Be Photographed In A Moment Of Grief’

Here’s something for us all to ponder in these days when journalism is more and more about emotion…

On the night of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., a woman named Aline Marie attended a prayer vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which was packed with local residents and the media. After about 45 minutes, Marie saw the statue of Mary and knelt down to pray.

“I sat there in a moment of devastation with my hands in prayer pose asking for peace and healing in the hearts of men,” she recalls. “I was having such a strong moment and my heart was open, and I started to cry.”

Her mood changed abruptly, she says, when “all of a sudden I hear ‘clickclickclickclickclick’ all over the place. And there are people in the bushes, all around me, and they are photographing me, and now I’m pissed. I felt like a zoo animal.”

What particularly troubles her, she says, is “no one came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m from this paper and I took your photograph.’ No one introduced themselves. I felt violated. And yes, it was a lovely photograph, but there is a sense of privacy in a moment like that, and they didn’t ask.”…

Here is the picture in question. NPR goes on to pose this question:

What are your thoughts? Should photographers interact with their subjects in moments of grief, or is it more respectful to leave them alone?

Which is a good one.

I’m old school on this. Way old school. Recently, in a comment on another thread, I told this anecdote about an experience that deeply affected the way I look at this sort of thing:

One of my first assignments as a reporter, back in the 70s, was to go interview a family that had lost some children in a fire. It was one of those awful situations of a family that lived in a rural shack heated by a wood-or-coal-burning stove, and some coals got out of the stove and caused the house to burn like kindling.

The photographer and I found the home where the survivors were staying with relatives. It was a house just like the one that had burned, way out in the country. The parents of the dead children were at the funeral home making arrangements. The family that lived in the home let us in, and then left us to wait in the front room while they congregated back in the kitchen. There was no conversation between us.

The photographer — much older and more experienced than I was — and I sat on the edges of our chairs, feeling EXTREMELY awkward, intensely feeling how much we were intruding, and unwelcome. But I guess maybe those poor folks didn’t feel empowered to turn us away.

We glanced at each other uncomfortably every few moments, and stared around the room the rest of the time.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the wood-burning stove in the center of the room. There were burned spots in the battered linoleum floor all around it. Another imminent tragedy, staring me in the face.

We just sat there, waiting to pester those poor bereaved parents, dreading their return, for about an hour.

Finally, one of us — I think it was Bob, the photog — said “Let’s get out of here.” And we did.

Here’s the upshot of the story. Although it became more and more common over the years for news organizations to harass bereaved families in their grief and demand to know how they felt — I even worked with some people who maintained that it gave families a welcome catharsis — I resolved that day that if I were ever an editor, I would never send anyone on such an assignment.

As it turns out, I was an editor a couple of years later, and for the rest of my career. And I never forgot that resolution. Reporters can attest that I sent them on a lot of awkward, unpleasant assignments over the years, but I never sent anyone out on one like that.

Now, having declared myself entirely against this sort of thing, I can offer some defense of the photographer in this case. First, this doesn’t appear to have been the worst sort of intrusion, as there is no indication that the subject of the photo was a bereaved family member. Second, if you are going to take pictures like this — and that is to me debatable — then it’s disingenuous to demand that the subject be asked first. The journalistic version of the Observer Effect kicks in. You can’t get a picture like that — an honest, real one — after you’ve made the subject aware of your presence. And really, do you even want a picture of someone who would say “yes,” and then strike a pose for you? I think not. Such a photo would not only be ethically compromised, it would be downright creepy.

Thoughts? Or feelings, considering the topic?

View of Jim DeMint changed radically after the 2004 campaign

I was rather startled to run across something I’d written about Jim DeMint in 2004.

For so many years now, I’ve seen him as a hyperpartisan ideologue, as responsible as anyone in the country for pulling his party into Tea Party extremism right up until his recent resignation from the Senate, that I’d forgotten I used to see him differently.

Here’s what I wrote right after the 2004 election, when he had defeated Inez Tenenbaum in the contest to replace Fritz Hollings:

While I criticized Rep. DeMint heavily for choosing to run as a hyperpartisan (despite his record as an independent thinker), there’s little doubt that that strategy was his key to victory. The president won South Carolina 58-41, and Mr. DeMint beat Mrs. Tenenbaum 54-44, demonstrating the power of the coattail effect. I congratulate him, and sincerely hope he now returns to being the thoughtful policy wonk he was before he wrapped himself in party garb in recent weeks.

Wow. What a difference a few years make. “Thoughtful policy wonk?” I only vaguely remember that Jim DeMint.

So that’s when it began. Before the 2004 campaign, I saw him as a fairly thoughtful guy. But I guess that campaign showed him what red meat could do for him…